Technology, science, engineering
26 october 2021
Here’s a big new thing: astronomers may have discovered the first planet outside our galaxy. The potential planet is the size of Saturn and around 28 million light years away from the Milky Way. The body was seen by Nasa’s Chandra X-ray telescope, which detects dips in brightness from stars – which happens when a planet passes in front of the star and temporarily blocks its light. The “transit” method is the only technique scientists have to find worlds beyond our Sun. If further research supports this finding, we can expect to hear of more and more exoplanets.
25 october 2021
Blue light bull
Thank heaven for influencers. A lot of people are worried about the effect “blue light pollution” from their phone and computer screens might have on their skin, and last week a very popular YouTuber came out with a skin-care line created to protect against precisely this. Rachel “Valkyrae” Hofstetter is actually “the fastest-growing streamer in the world”, according to the website for her RFLCT line of unguents and cleansers. And she couldn’t stop crying when the line was launched, she said, because it had been such a long journey to get to this point and this was “just the beginning”. The only problem is there’s no hard evidence phones and laptops cause the kind of skin damage these products claim to address. Kathleen Suozzi, a Yale skin surgeon, tells the Washington Post current research suggests for the vast majority of people a short walk in the sun does more damage to the skin than eight hours in front of a screen. One of Hofstetter’s backers is Joanna Coles, the former Times (of London) feature writer who’s risen to dizzy New York heights, running Hearst Magazines and now looking for cool start-ups to support. She tells the Post she’s sure if a male gamer had started this product line “he would have been roundly applauded”. Maybe. Maybe not.
22 october 2021
Las Vegas loop
Elon Musk won approval to build a network of tunnels under Las Vegas to allow passengers to ride Teslas to different parts of the city. It’s been a drawn-out process with permutations that have included ideas for autonomous buses and electric sleds. The tunnels will be 29 miles long and are aiming to zip 57,000 passengers an hour around Las Vegas. Plans for other loops in Texas and Florida are also on the table. Musk’s Boring Company claims a Vegas-style tunnel would “alleviate congestion in any city”. Some might say encouraging car usage of any sort is bad – and that there’s already a higher capacity way of easing congestion called a train.
21 october 2021
Donald Trump, still most Republicans’ favourite leader, said he will launch a new social media platform called Truth. “I created Truth Social and TMTG [Trump Media and Technology Group] to stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” Trump wrote in a press release obtained by the Financial Times. “We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American president has been silenced. This is unacceptable.” Trump used Twitter extensively during his 2016 campaign and his time in office before it and other platforms banned him following the 6 January attack on the US Capitol. Truth Social can already be pre-ordered on Apple’s App Store, where it describes itself as a place for “open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology”. The truth may be more simple: it’s a stage for Trump’s next presidential run.
20 october 2021
So far, artificial intelligence has been all about code and software. Its human analogue has been the brain. But why shouldn’t artificial intelligences have bodies? Not robot bodies created by humans for appearances, but bodies created by a genuine evolutionary process to assist AI “brains” in carrying out their functions? No reason at all, says research cited in the MIT Technology Review. But these bodies aren’t warm or even tangible. They’re virtual and very odd – just moving shapes that turn out to be good at specific tasks, like pushing balls across a surface. They’re unimals. The right body can speed up changes in the robot’s brain, Stanford’s Agrim Gupta says, and this insight could reverse the way robots are built. Not to be outdone, Google says AI is already changing the way its phones are built. The Pixel 6 was unveiled yesterday as its first phone with a self-designed chip. It can, among other things, remove people who walk unexpectedly into photos.